As spring arrives in Maggie Valley, the mountains come alive with eye-popping blooms and fragrant wildflowers that dance in the breeze. There’s a window right before the hardwood canopies leaf out, when the groundcover flourishes under the delicate care of spring sunshine.
With over 1,500 species of flowering plants, the Great Smoky Mountains boast one of the most diverse forests in the entire world, and you can discover it in all its beauty. Wildflower season starts in late March and goes all the way through early May. The lower elevations bloom first, then as temperatures warm, the fresh, vibrant colors slope upwards into higher elevations, which means you get a wide window of opportunity to get that incredible botanical shot that is sure to light up your social media feed.
Here are some of our favorite spots to enjoy spring wildflower viewing in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains.
Oconaluftee River Trail
The Oconaluftee River Trail inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an easy 3-mile roundtrip hike along the river with a wide smooth path that’s perfect for strollers, wheelchairs, and bicycles. It’s also one of only two trails in the park that allows dogs. (The other is the Gatlinburg Trail, a 1.9-mile hike from the Sugarland Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN.)
You’ll see white trillium, columbine, crested dwarf iris, phacelia, purple violets, and pink lady slipper orchids, among other blooms. In addition to viewing and photographing spring wildflowers, this trail offers the opportunity to learn about the inspiring stories of the East Band of the Cherokee. The trail actually ends at the boundary of their reservation. Return to the visitor’s center or explore the local shops. As you’re exploring and snapping shots of the wildflowers, keep an eye out for the wild elk herd. These magnificent beasts are often seen in the fields around the Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center and along the trail. Just be sure to keep a safe distance of 150 feet or more and take your photos from there.
Blue Ridge Parkway
You’ll be amazed at the diversity of spring wildflowers all along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The high rainfall, rich soils, and temperate climate create a unique environment where a wide variety of species can exist peacefully together. Get your camera ready because the floral displays range from dainty and small to magnificently large and showy. With over 1,500 species of flowering plants in the Smoky Mountains, 80 percent of them are wildflowers.
A couple of guaranteed spots for amazing wildflower photographs are Graveyard Fields and Craggy Gardens. In early spring, you’ll find the forest floor blanketed with peak blooms like wild ginger, liverleaf, toothwort, spring beauty, trout lily, trillium, larkspur, foamflower, and jack-in-the-pulpit. Later in the wildflower season, you’ll see Turk’s cap lily, meadow rue, evening primrose, impatiens, turtlehead, aster, blazing star, black-eyed Susan’s and so much more.
Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest is home to two incredible spots for spring wildflower viewing. Pink Beds is a fairly flat loop that meanders through the Pink Beds Valley. Aptly named for the abundance of pink wildflowers that grow in this area – like mountain laurel and rhododendron – you can also find clear burbling streams, rare mountain bogs, and scenic wooded areas.
The other spot in Pisgah is the incredible Roan Mountain, famous for its profusion of fragrant wildflowers and rare plants. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this 6,285-foot mountain ridge has many balds (aka treeless areas) that serve up breathtaking panoramic views, including a garden trail that leads to a platform overlooking a showstopping sea of vibrant rhododendron in the valley below.
Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage
Since 1950, the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has drawn hundreds of people from all around the United States and several other countries. They offer wildflower walks guided by professionals as well as educational exhibits and other opportunities to explore the Smokies’ invaluable natural and cultural resources. While the event is virtual this year because of COVID-19, it is still being held from May 8-16, 2021. Visit their website to register.
As you venture out into the Smokies on your search for the perfect spring wildflower photograph, please remember the time-honored advice: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
Stay at the Meadowlark After Exploring Spring Wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains
You’ll need a place to rest up after snapping all those amazing photographs. At the Meadowlark we offer accommodations that range from classic roadside motel rooms to suites, cabins, and cottages. Check out our entire selection and book your stay for an incredible spring wildflower vacation in the Smoky Mountains.